My sweet little family has a stereotypical Texas palate — burgers, brisket, sausage, bacon and butter. Every holiday meal has a giant, greased-up bird or beast surrounded by five desserts and every casserole dish from grandma’s, mama’s and my kitchen, and they’re all full of something loaded in either sugar, fat or both.
Every year, everyone asks the same question, “Why did we make so much food?” This is the mystery of the universe — unsolved to this day.
But, after the military moved me away from home, and back again, the holidays are a little different for me. While I was out of the barbeque capital for three years, I gave up red meat, I learned to cut way back on sugar and fat without sacrificing the foods and flavors I really love and I realized the difference between a full dinner plate and a portion size.
Getting selective about food was easy for me, it is all my kids know and my husband is a supporter as long as I occasionally buy him a brisket and let him eat the occasional bag of fast food without a guilt trip. But, introducing my healthy changes to my extended family has been a struggle — mostly because it happens so infrequently, like only around the holidays. You know the old saying, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” No, Dad, I’m not calling you an old dog; I’m just saying that it’s tough to change when you’re facing off against holiday tradition…and grandma.
But, I promise you, it can be done! You can cut an entire stick of butter or shortening out of a recipe, you can make simple lower fat choices and you can cut way down on that holiday sugar rush (and crash) by taking it easy on the sprinkle cookies (ahem, Santa).
Unlike grandma’s super-secret pie recipe, I’m sharing my secrets to a healthier holiday with you, and sending you into the kitchen equipped with the tools to turn your biggest critics into believers:
- Start small, but start somewhere. If your family is a long, traditional line of indulgers, you don’t want to send them into a holiday panic. For example, swapping the holiday spread for a green salad or the cookies for celery sticks could cause your kinfolk to turn on you. Take it slow — remember you’re working against recipes that go back for generations. Use great-great-grandma’s recipe, but sub equal parts of unsweetened applesauce for some of the butter or use whole grain rolls instead of the basic white dinner roll. Even small changes can make big differences.
- Go undercover. Shh — bring it in real close now. You know your family will like the flavorful, healthy makeover you found of one of their favorite dishes. They just don’t know that you know that they’ll like it…or something. Anyway, the point is. You can be a little sneaky. The only way I can get my husband to eat butternut squash is by mixing a puree into my homemade macaroni and cheese. Sneak in the healthy stuff, and just sit back and listen to them rave about your cooking. Your secret is safe with me.
- Come clean. Once you’re sure your family loves your healthy alternative recipe, spill the beans — not literally, I could see how that could be confusing when we’re talking about food. You have to eventually tell them about the secret ingredients, though, so that they are no longer afraid of the healthy. Keeping them in the dark forever will only keep them closed off from healthy changes.
- Accept constructive criticism. You are introducing new healthy alternatives with the expectation that your family will embrace change. You have to be willing to do the same. If you make something that was a major flop, admit it. If you made a healthy substitution that completely ruined the flavor or consistency, head back to the drawing board. Eventually, you’ll strike a balance that will keep you and your family satisfied and ready to accept a new holiday recipe into the fold.